Thursday, April 14, 2016

Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Australia and Berets

1956, Switzerland. Hungarian refugees fleeing the National insurgency
Growing up in the Netherlands, 50 years ago, jokes on our southern (Belgian) neighbours were a constant; pretty similar to Americans vs Canadians, NZ'ers vs Australians. But, despite being NZer now, this post on my incomprehension of Australian politics and attitudes has nothing to do with that. I love the country and find Australians among my very best friends and people I highly respect.
Refugee with immigration officers at New York dock, 1951
At the same time, the way Australia deals with asylum seekers and refugees is something that can't be brought in the limelight too much. There is no country in the Western World with such an incredible poor record of care and acceptance of people fleeing from persecution and human rights abuses. Worse, get's away with breaking treaties and conventions it signed up to. 
Israel Ruth Gruber, refugee from Exodus
Cynically, so many Australians arrived in the subcontinent themselves fleeing from persecution or certainly, the want of a better (safer) life for themselves and offspring. 
Macedonia, refugee camp
Following, an animated short film, narrated by two asylum-seeking men detained in Australia's Manus Island Offshore Processing Centre, recounting the dangerous journeys that brought them to the island and their memories of the riot that erupted in 2014.
video
In July 2013, the Australian Government introduced a controversial immigration policy, transferring asylum seekers arriving by boat to remote offshore detention centres on foreign Pacific islands. Seven months later, the Manus Island centre erupted in violence when police and guards put down protests with sticks, machetes and guns, and 23 year-old asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed.
Albania, 1999: Kosovar refugees released after detention in Mitrowice prison by the Serbs, collapsing after having crossed the border
Whistleblower Rod St George tells about life on Manus Island here:
Why this post? In the first place, because these messages can't be spread often enough. Quoting George Steiner, it is a crime to say "but I didn't know", even if you are not in a position to do something, denial or keeping the silence is almost as bad as perpetrating.

Audrey Hepburn interviewing a jewish refugee in Paris, from Morocco, who fled from anti-semitism, 1968
And second, so many refugees wear berets, of course. Many of my family did, before being slaughtered in Auschwitz and Sobibor.
France, 1939. Two refugees made homeless during the civil war in Spain 

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